May 12, 2013
Can we build a new global unionism through international campaigning? This article looks at what we can learn from the highly successful maritime internationalism of the ITF Flags of Convenience campaign.
At first glance international shipping does not appear the most natural terrain for effective international solidarity. It is a highly competitive industry where capital is mobile in the most literal way. And for nearly 80 years ship owners have adopted Flags of Convenience – the practice of registering ships outside the country of ownership – to avoid regulation, and particularly restrictions on sourcing labour from low wage countries.
The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), however, has continually challenged this attempted race to the bottom with impressive results. Over sixty years, the Flag of Convenience (FOC) campaign has developed strong industrial, institutional, and political dimensions. Built on the bedrock of solidarity between dockers’ and seafarers’ unions, the FOC campaign has developed an international collective bargaining framework, a strong enforcement mechanism, and the capacity to influence supra-national state regulation. (more…)
March 5, 2013
The best map in the world will not get you anywhere. Only going will get you there.
In 1918 Helen Keller described the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) as “…probably the most hated and most loved organization in existence. Certainly… the least understood and the most persistently misrepresented.”(1) Arguably, the IWW’s “One Big Union” project is the most ambitious scheme ever undertaken within the labour movement. The organization’s founders set out to build industrial democracy worldwide, from the bottom up. However, although the IWW still exists, nobody would argue that things have gone according to plan. Is “one big union” just secular “pie in the sky”? Firstly, let’s take a look at the roots of the model. Then let’s have a look around at the scene today and see if anybody else fits the bill, or might be made to fit.
In 1904 six labour activists met to discuss how the U.S. labour movement might be radicalized (2). They resolved to bring together a larger group to form a new type of union, and in 1905 about 200 radical unionists met in Chicago. Together, this group formed the IWW (also known as the Wobblies). The Reverend Friar Thomas Haggerty was a central figure at both meetings. Among other things, he wrote the famous Preamble to the Constitution:
“The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.
Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth.”
“By organizing industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.”
Clearly, the IWW’s vision is not a defensive one (eg unity in face of adversity). It’s about taking control of the workplace, economics, and the world. (more…)
February 11, 2013
This article was originally published in the Global Labour University’s “Global Labour” column, here. It has been submitted to the New Unionism Network’s discussion on global unionism by the author, a member of the network. You can find out more about global framework agreements here.
For the past decades of economic globalisation, unions around the world have been on the defensive; their role as voices of the political and economic interests of working people has been marginalised. In a climate of outsourcing, offshoring, flexibilisation and casualisation of work, the loss of union power and the deregulation of labour markets has flourished and opened the way for increasing precariousness and agency work – the “triangular trap
December 6, 2012
“What can we do today so that tomorrow we can do what we are unable to do today?”
- Paulo Freire
We have reached a moment in the technological development of human society where we are limited not by our resources but by our imaginations. We will be judged as a generation, as a civilisation, on whether we have the collective capacity to think our way through the iron cage in which we have encased ourselves. If we don’t, no other generation for thousands of years will have the same opportunity.
Those who are lucky enough to inhabit the top of the iron cage imagine it’s not in their interest to escape it. For this reason, we cannot expect that some civic-minded oligarch will absolve us of the responsibility to act. The question I’m posing is therefore directed towards the rest of us prisoners. What can we do to escape, and to build a society founded upon equality, solidarity, sustainability and true freedom? I want to sketch out the structure of an organisation that can achieve this – a unionism for the 21st century. (more…)
November 27, 2012
In a speech given at the Global Labour Institute summer school in Manchester earlier this year, life-long trade unionist Dan Gallin stated:
The need of the hour is a serious challenge to global transnational capital and to the world order it has fashioned, but such a challenge cannot be mounted unless the movement recovers a common identity based on an alternative vision of society. (1)
Our movement is in a deep crisis, a two-fold crisis: a crisis of the trade union movement and a crisis of socialism, and we should be aware that these are related, so much so that it is impossible to deal with them separately.
Here I think Gallin is spot-on! The reason organised labour cannot mount a serious challenge to global capitalism is due to a crisis of socialism which has had an inevitable weakening impact on the international trade union movement. It therefore follows that in order to overcome the crisis in the trade union movement we first need to address the crisis of socialism.
Drawing on the work of Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel I will briefly explain why I think socialism is in crisis. I will also propose an alternative economic vision to that of socialism (informed by ‘participatory economics’ theory) as a means of overcoming this crisis. Finally I will describe how this new economic vision could be used to inform global unionism – presented here as an alternative to the current international trade union movement – as a means of organising the desperately needed challenge to the current insane system of capitalist destruction and greed. (more…)